Conceal-carry lawsuits

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Thursday, Scott County will join Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties in the business of issuing permits to carry a concealed weapon. The counties have gone ahead with the process of issuing the permits despite a plea by Attorney General Jay Nixon to wait until the legislature amends the conceal-carry law to bring it in line with the Hancock Amendment.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Giradeau, initially said fixing the conceal-carry law might have to wait until next session because the state budget, tort reform and other issues are more pressing, especially since county sheriffs were going ahead with the permitting process. Kinder now says he will count votes when the legislature returns from break on Monday. He thinks the conceal-carry law still could be fixed before adjournment May 14. "It's very much a possibility," he said.

The current situation leaves Missouri's counties vulnerable to lawsuits challenging whether the fees counties incur for the conceal-carry permitting constitutes an unfunded mandate outlawed by the Hancock Amendment.

In ruling the state's conceal-carry law constitutional, the state Supreme Court exempted four counties -- including Cape Girardeau -- from being required to issue permits because they had shown during hearings that the fees involved were an unfunded mandate. The judges left open whether residents in other counties could challenge the law on the same basis.

St. Louis County already is planning a lawsuit.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle has described the county's resolution to proceed with the permitting as "bulletproof," but any taxpayer can claim a Hancock violation through a lawsuit. The county is paying the unfunded part of the mandate through a commission the sheriff's department receives on telephones jail inmates use.

Nixon foresees a "litigation rodeo" as anti-gun groups challenge the conceal-carry law county-by-county. The rodeo could cost the counties dearly.

If lawsuits can be avoided through a simple legislative fix, as has been claimed, then the legislature should not tarry.

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